again I find myself hearkening back to my amazingly misspent youth,
in particular to the time I devoted to watching horror movies on TV.
One of the stations I really miss was the impoverished NBC affiliate
out of Corpus Christi, who did so much with so little. I never missed
an episode of Colonel Christopher, who was some space jockey
with an acerbic penguin puppet sidekick named Snowjob and a more even-keeled
space bird named Gimlet. I really loved those characters. God knows
I wasn't tuning in for the cartoons, which ran to The Mighty Hercules
("You're coming with me, Daedalus!" "Yi!"*) and
The New Adventures of the Three Stooges.
Hm. A guy in a spaceship with a couple of puppets for company....
Where have I heard that before....?
was I? Oh, yes, I was leading into that channel's selection of horror
films. The CBS affiliate had all the Universal flicks, and the ABC
station seemed to have a lock on all the British movies, leaving Col.
Christopher's employers with the really psychotronic stuff, stuff
like Giant from the Unknown, starring Jethro Bodine's father;
the Nazis-terrorizing-wild-women epic She Demons; the durable
Frankenstein's Daughter, and this little gem. I use the word
gem in the sense of the small powdered donuts which bear that brand
name. A little sweet, but not at all filling.
start off with a bubbling pool, which is located in some cave. We
know this because a fellow with a miner's helmet is shimmying through
a nearby tunnel. He sees the camera and screams. What caused him to
scream (not "Yi!", unfortunately)? Why, it must be some form of UNKNOWN TERROR, as the titles
immediately assure us.
hold on tight for the exposition: Folks in a bar watch a TV newscast
telling us that millionaire explorer Dan Matthews (John Howard) has
returned from Central America, where he was searching for the missing
spelunker, who vanished during the credits. The fellow was looking
for the "Cuava Muerte" (or so they seem to be saying), which the newscaster
informs us means "The cave... of death!" (For a minute I was afraid
I was accidentally watching Mesa
of Lost Women again) Matthews avers he has found some important
information, and will soon be making a return trip.
the TV with particular interest is a chap we will soon come to know
as Pete Morgan (Paul Richards). Pete sorta looks like a youngish Lance
Henriksen with a pompadour. Yep, as strange as it sounds. "Do it again,"
he says to the bartender, which is for some reason a cue for a song
by SIR LANCELOT, KING OF THE CALYPSOS!
wait, this is some sort of party at Dan's mansion. Pete crashes the
party and offers his services to Dan. He is at first hampered in this
by Dan's wife, Gina (Mala Doomsday
Machine Powers), who points out his gimp leg and begs him
not to humiliate himself. Dan tells his guests, two anthropologists,
that Pete's near-crippling was his fault; in an earlier expedition,
Dan screwed up big time and was only saved by Pete's quick action....at
the cost of his own mobility. Oh, yeah, Gina used to be Pete's girlfriend,
and the missing guy is Gina's brother. For a cheap little horror movie,
it really packs in the soap opera.
what clue did Dan bring back? Why, a song for SIR LANCELOT, KING OF
THE CALYPSOS to sing! Unlike Sir's previous number, this one is a
little downbeat for a calypso, all about people suffering and dying
and stuff. Somehow, Dan deduces that this song is about the Cave of
Death, and he has brought along an Indian to show them to the very
village that gave rise to that song. The native, Raoul (Gerald Gilden)
is suddenly reluctant to return to his village; fortunately, the two
anthropologists start confusing everything with talk of purgatory
and how they never actually thought of the possibility of an altar
inside a cave (which makes me wonder where they got their doctorates).
Dan decides that he really will need the expertise of his gimp friend
and accepts Pete's offer. Soon a jeep containing the two men, Gina
and Raoul rolls onto the soundstage containing the village; the populace
gathers around, curiously. Dan asks Raoul if he's going to get out
and say hi to his friends. The Indian reluctantly exits the Jeep,
and is immediately swallowed by the smiling crowd. Literally - seconds
later, Pete paws through the throng, trying to find their guide, but
he has vanished. The jefe of the village arrives - you know
he is the jefe because he is old, stern, and has the only straw
hat that doesn't make you quip, "How about a nice Hawaiian Punch?"
He gets rid of the interlopers by pointing off-camera and intoning
"Americano doctor! That way!"
do they find the villa of Dr. Ramsay (Gerald Milton), who is involved
in the most un-mad scientist pursuit of canning fruit. More exposition
follows: Ramsay has been in this "tropical backwash" for fifteen years,
studying local flora, especially fungi, for antibiotic research. He's
especially taken with one strain of fungus that "reproduces by binary
fission". Asked about the Cave of Death and reports of local human
sacrifices, Ramsay denies any knowledge of a cave, but explains that
when he arrived, he conquered the village's smallpox epidemic, and
now outranks the God of Death. Thus, whenever another sacrifice is
chosen, Ramsay claims the unfortunate for his own, and "sends them
else see where this is going?
there's one sacrifice that didn't go "somewhere safe", and that is
Ramsay's 'wife', Concha (May Wynn). At dinner, Ramsay rushes out because
he's heard jungle drums. Gina asks Concha is they can have some of
the canned fruit; Concha drops the jar, resulting in an enraged Ramsay
taking a whip to the woman over the protests of the other white folk,
especially Pete, who has taken something of a shine to the young woman.
"It's gone bad, anyway," says Gina. "Look, it's full of mold." Ramsay
admits that he uses the fruit as a culture for his magic fungus.
there is a storm that night, Dan and Gina walk into town and search
out the jefe. Using his Powerful American Money, Dan offers
the chief $200 if he will take them to Raoul. The jefe ushers
them into his house, and points to a nearby bowl. It's 1957, so we
don't see anything, but we are given to believe that the bowl holds
Raoul's tongue. Gina understandably freaks, and the two understandably
retreat to the villa.
their return, they find that Pete may not have the Power of American
Money, but he does understand the Power of the American Dress; he
has bribed Concha with one of Gina's, and in exchange she is going
to show Dan and Pete a place where they can hear "the voices of people
suffering in purgatory". Sure enough, in a clearing near a rock outcrop,
the men hear eerie moaning coming from the ground...
Gina, wearing her gothic romance nightgown, sees a hideous figure
peering in the window: it appears to be a man covered in soap suds
(we'll get back to that later). Of course, Gina leaves the safety
of the house to be pursued by the soapy specter through the jungle
(cue Creedence song) in her peignoir. The chase comes to an end when
she runs into two Indians carrying bows; as she cowers on the ground,
she hears two arrows hit their mark. When she looks up, she is alone.
Ramsay's manservant Lino (Duane Grey) offers to take the two men to
the cave for that magic amount of $200 American. Unbeknownst to the
two men, however, the dastardly domestic takes off with the horses
once they are inside the cave. Pete and Dan quickly find the sacrificial
altar, overlooking a 200 foot drop; fortunately the men are carrying
a cool little roll-up ladder that gets them to the bottom, where they
find the skeletons of earlier sacrifices, and the somewhat fresher
body of the unfortunate Raoul. Further along, they discover the same
bubbling pool from the beginning of the movie, and a nearby rockslide;
in the debris, an entrenching tool, much like they one the missing
digging out the rockslide and finding a narrow passage, Dan has an
assault of guilt and insists on going into the next chamber first.
Unknown to either of the men, it has been raining non-stop up on the
surface - Gina frets in the villa about the possibility of a flash
flood in the cave.
call, Gina! Pete bellows for Dan get back to the main chamber, as
a trickle of water that followed them down the ladder is is rapidly
becoming a torrent. Dan has problems of his own, however: in the next
chamber, he is being stalked by shadowy, soapy figures. Pete eventually
fights his way back up the flood and limps back to the villa to retrieve
his diving gear. Ramsay insists on sending Lino to help, and Gina
refuses to sit on her butt while her husband is in trouble (you go,
find the bubbling pool chamber again (all the water has run off) and
Pete and Gina shimmy into the newly-excavated tunnel, dragging their
gear behind them. The treacherous Lino, however, dynamites the tunnel
shut behind them. Too bad for him he used such a short fuse, as a
fair-sized chunk of the ceiling falls on him, too.
the next chamber, Gina and Pete find Dan in a bad way, and they also
find what worked him over: the aforementioned shadowy, soapy figures.
Pete engages in some Captain Kirk-style hand-to-hand with one of the
Soap Guys and finally knocks him into the bubbling pool, which apparently
kills him. Perhaps the pool was supposed to be lava, or really
hot springs; I prefer to think that the water just washed the suds
off him. Anyway, this panics the other Soap Guys, who hightail it
out of the immediate vicinity.
thank goodness, makes with the exposition and finally cues us in that
those aren't supposed to be soap suds, but Ramsays pet fungus; the
sacrifices he "sent to someplace safe" he has actually been
using for experiments (what that has to do with antibiotics is beyond
me, but that's mad science for you). Not only that, but a fresh crop
of suds - er, fungus - is flowing down the walls, threatening to overtake
was one point in my stupider, more impoverished days, when I ran out
of dishwasher detergent, and tried laundry detergent instead. Here
is a clue: don't do that. It was astounding seeing a wall of
suds come out of one little apartment-sized dishwasher. The amount
of sheer soapage streaming down the cavern walls brought this memory
back to me. Stupid movie.
posits that the suds.... dammit, the fungus... is coming from
somewhere, and follows it to its source, careful to not let any touch
him, you see. He gets jumped by another Soap Guy, and Pete forces
him back into a veritable waterfall of scrubbing bubbles. Again, astoundingly,
this seems to kill him. You would think that applying more bubble
bath to a guy covered with it would be like coals to Newcastle, but
finds, at the end of a corridor, a door leading into the villa, with
Ramsay mocking him through the window. We find out why Ramsay is studying
fungi: it never occurs to him that he's taunting a guy with a pickaxe
in his hands. Glass doesn't put up much resistance to Mr. Pickaxe,
no sir, and soon Ramsay finds himself facing an angry Pete sans intervening
door. Ramsay's not that worried; he claims that fresh air kills
the fungus (wha?) and Pete opening the door has already killed his
pet. But no, somebody left the dishwasher on, and the fungus is still
growing. "It's mutated!" yelps Ramsay (the guy is
a scientist, after all). Ramsay's also prepared for this: he has set
explosive charges in the tunnel, and will seal off the fungus before
it can take over the world like The Giant Chicken Heart.
having none of that, since his pals are still back in the main chamber.
He tells Concha to set off the charges while he forces Ramsay to go
back with him. Again with the short fuses! The ensuing cave-in bonks
Ramsay on the head with a rock the size of a dog; he is summarily
eaten by his soa-fungus!!!!! I was going to say fungus!!!!!!
suffering from a broken back, manfully expires, leaving Gina to his
pal's care. Pete and Gina put on the diving gear and barely make it
out to an underground stream ahead of the..... ahem..... fungus. They
surface near the beach, and that's the end. I guess we have to figure
out which woman Pete wound up with. The end.
Unknown Terror never tries to be anything more than what it is
-a B-movie in the truest sense of the word. It is competently made,
fairly well acted, and the characters have a bit more shading than
is usual in such enterprises- although Ramsay is the least menacing
villain I've ever seen. Pete the hero, in particular, almost made
me proud to be a gimp myself. The movie's major failing is that the
sequence where Dan and Pete descend into the Cave of Death on a less-than-steady
rope ladder, and subsequently have to swing like Indiana Jones over
the deadly bubbling pool - this sequence is far more tense
and exciting than the supposed climax of the movie. The fact that
the monster is patently Mr. Bubble doesn't help much either.
that little bit of cost-cutting that probably doomed it, after all;
there are far worse movies out there that are still widely available
in one form or another; but who, really, wants to market a movie where
the monster is soap suds? Well, fellow B-Master
Ken Begg on his dream DVD label, probably, but that's beside the
think the major reason this movie has stayed with me for so many years,
way beyond the impact that it should have had, is that it awakened
to my young mind the concept that anything could be a monster
- cripes, if these guys could get away with soap suds, what could
I get away with? And this, I think, was probably the beginning
of my downfall, my lifelong fascination with watching these terrible
movies, and ultimately, making them.
all I need to do is figure out who to sue.